On a recent visit to Asuncion I took a walking tour of the Old Town. The most historic district of the city.
Here are to be found, within walking distance of each other a number of fine buildings and a collection of museums. It is a natural first stop for any tourists visiting the city.
I crammed a lot into the day I spent taking a tour. Taking things at a more relaxed pace there is no reason why the tour should not be spread over two days. Especially in the heat of summer.
If anyone is heading to Asuncion and would like to hire someone out to show them around I would be more than happy to oblige.
I started my tour at the large tree filled Plaza Uruguaya. This is a good meeting spot and a sensible starting point for a tour of the Old Town.
To one side of the Plaza sits the Old Railway Station. Trains have not run from here for many years and it now houses a railway museum.
The Railway Museum is only attraction with an entrance fee. Thereafter all admissions are free. The fee however is not excessive and does help maintain the museum.
Inside there are a number of exhibits recalling the days of steam with photographs and equipment as well as furniture such as the seats from old carriages on display. The well laid out museum takes the visitor through a number of themed rooms before arriving on the station platform.
Here underneath a fine Victorian station roof there are on display a couple of carriages as well as the little steam train, Sapucai, the first train to arrive in Paraguay.
It is a well kept museum and has much to see for anyone interested in history as well as the railway buffs.
Back outside the railways station I followed the pavements around the Plaza Uruguaya and then set out along Calle Palma and into the heart of the old town.
As Asuncion was built as a compact city focused upon the waters of Asuncion Bay the majority of the most important historic buildings are in the vicinity of Calle Palma.
About half way down Calle Palma I reached the Panteon de los Heroes. This is a fine whitewashed building that is the national shrine and mausoleum. As well as being an architectural master piece it is still very much a working building.
Every day there is a guard outside in full dress uniform who raise the Paraguayan flag in the morning and lower it every evening.
It is somewhere every visitor to Asuncion should see. Inside the is a high and ornate golden altar piece and the remains of a number of Paraguayan leaders as well as that of the Unknown Solider.
When I visited I noticed there was a sign requesting photographs not be taken inside.
On the wide pavements outside the Panteon I saw one of the other sights of Asuncion. Indigenous women selling their handicrafts. These women travel into the city everyday and lay out their wares on blankets for all to see.
The same items are to be found in the various souvenir shops selling for higher prices. The proceeds from handicrafts sold on the street go directly to the communities.
After leaving the Panteon I turned off Calle Palma to walked a couple of blocks downhill towards the river.
That bought me to Independence House. It is a modest single story building but one of the most important in the country as a result of the events that took place there.
It was in this building that plans for the independence of Paraguay were drawn up and from here that in the early hours of a May morning in 1811 the Declaration of Independence was delivered to the colonial governor.
As such the house has been kept as a memorial to the Independence of Paraguay and it’s interiors look much as they would have done in 1811.
The building is now a well maintained museum containing many items relating to the Independence of Paraguay and possessions of the men who bought it about.
The contents are clearly labelled and if so required there are guides available to show visitors around and add further detail.
As short walk from the Independence House I came to another interesting building, one that it is easy to overlook. The Central Post Office.
From the exterior the Central Post Office appears simply a solid and well maintained colonial building. It is it’s interior that must be seen.
Once through the entrance I found myself in a tree filled courtyard. The actual working part of the post office is housed in the range of buildings at the back of the courtyard.
It was though this tree filled space, hidden in plain sight, that I had come to see. All around were columns and carvings and there was even a sweeping stairway leading up to a roof top terrace.
Unfortunately I found the stairway and terrace were currently off limits. Parts of them have become unsafe and the funds needed for the repairs are not available.
I did not have a letter to post, so instead simply enjoyed a few minutes in this pleasant green space before heading on once more.
My next stop overlooked the waters of the Bay of Asuncion. It was the large Plaza de la Independencia. This has since the very first days of Asuncion been the centre of authority.
On side stands the fine Cathedral of Asuncion. It is the central church for the country and so always spotlessly clean. As is nearly always the case I was unable to see it’s fine interior.
For most of the day the large wooden doors of the cathedral a locked shut. To see inside the cathedral it is best to attend one of the regular services.
Then nearby with it’s back to the water is the Cabildo.
This was for many years, until the new modern parliament was built on another side of the plaza, where government met.
The Cabildo is now a museum. Inside as well as the old parliament chamber it houses a cultural museum. Spread over two floors are exhibits ranging from indigenous costumes to the history of Paraguayan cinema. A broad range of clearly displayed items and well worth a visit.
The next building I came to as I continued on my way was the Government Palace. This is still a working government office and so is not open to the public. It’s distinctive form is one that is often shown on Paraguayan tourist literature.
From across it’s manicured lawns it is easy to see why as the Government Palace does make a fine photograph. The armed guards posted around it are to protect the building, not to deter photographs.
After the palace there was just one final group of buildings I wanted to visit.
These are just over the street from the Government Palace and are know collectively as Manzana de la Rivera.
The Manzana de la Rivera consists of the block of old buildings that have been maintained and restored as a result of their cultural value.
They now from a museum and cultural centre with the various buildings enclosing a central patio.
What makes these buildings so important is that each of the nine represents a different era and building style. The various buildings that now form the museum were built between 1750 and the early 20th century. It is unusual to have so many architectural styles together in such a small area.
Once I had explored this one last museum with it’s displays depicting the history of Asuncion my tour drew to a close.
To finish the day off I took the short walk from the Manzana de la Rivera down to the Bay of Asuncion.
Along the bay runs the Costanera. This is a smart boulevard that sweeps along the waters edge. The ideal place to finish the day, looking out over the waters of the bay and to the Rio Paraguay beyond.
I had had a successful and interesting day and as I mentioned at the top would be happy to lead anyone who was visiting Asuncion around it’s sights.